On February 14, 2014, some Mature Friends set off on a tour of Costa Rica. Well, a few Mature Friends, anyway. The trip was intended as a Mature Friends travel outing, but due to sparse sign up, Collette Tours opened the trip up to tourists from all over the United States and Canada, from regions not coincidentally covered in winter snow.The Mature Friends contingent arrived in San Jose, Costa Rica late Saturday evening and after a night in our hotel in San Jose, we were up early the next morning to visit the Doka Coffee Estate in nearby Alajuela. There we learned from our local guide all the steps that went into that cup of coffee from the initial seedling, planting, harvesting, and processing the beans, to the final roasting. Coffee production is a labor intensive process. As our guide pointed out, Costa Ricans do not like to do the harvesting work, so much of it is done by “migrant labor.” mainly from nearby Nicaragua. Another item of interest was that Doka sends their raw coffee beans to Germany for decaffeination by the water process. But they were charged very little for this service, because the German company now has a supply of caffeine which they sell to soft drink and energy drink manufacturers. Finally, we had a chance to sample coffee at its source.
Following the coffee tour, we went on to the Pacific coast to the seaside resort of Tamarindo Beach. We had a full day there where we could partake of optional tours or relax after our long flights.
It was then on to the mountains and the Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve.
On the Trail, Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve
Costa Rica has become noted for eco-tourism. The country has developed an ecological awareness and a pride in the natural beauty with which their country is endowed. About twenty-five percent of the land is held in natural reserves. Running up and down this narrow country are mountain ranges which include volcanic peaks. As the name “cloud forest” implies, the mountains are often shrouded in clouds coming mainly from the east or the Caribbean side of the country. Oddly the Pacific side of the country is considered the “dry” side. The result is a lush upland tropical forest, home to all sorts of plants and animals. Well maintained trails led us through the forest and to a system of hanging bridges that allowed us to see the forest at the tree top or canopy level.
Negotiating One of the Hanging Bridges
Other attractions at the cloud forest reserve included a butterfly dome, in which butterflies are raised and we could see them at close hand and a hummingbird garden with hummingbird feeders which attracted plenty of hummers as well as bees.
From the cloud forest we went on to Arenal where we embarked on a boat cruise on the lake. This was an opportunity to see abundant bird life around the lake including flocks of snowy egrets, cormorants and snake-birds or Anhingas. Of course the main feature was the Arenal Volcano, which erupted in 1968 and was active until 2010. We were fortunate that the sky was clear and we had grand views of this stratovolcano, a perfect cone-shaped mountain. By the next morning, although our hotel at Arenal faced the volcano, the clouds had moved in and one would hardly know that there was a 5300-foot-high volcano practically at our door step.
From Arenal we made a day trip to the Caño Negro Wildlife Refuge and a boat trip on the Rio Frio. Our boat's captain must have had a sixth sense (or much experience) for he knew just where to find the wildlife along the river, such as birds, lizards, a sloth in the trees, caiman on the river bank, howler monkeys high in the trees, and many others.
White Face Cappucine Monkey
We returned to Arenal for the night and the next day already was our last day as we drove to San Jose, with stops at several towns. First was Zarcero where we visited a fantastic topiary garden, begun in 1960. Then a stop at Sarchi with its many craft shops. We visited only one where there was an old ox-cart construction factory. This was truly a museum piece. All the machinery were run by a single water wheel, connected by a system of belts and pulleys. Ox-carts were originally used to haul coffee from the fields but they are now a curiosity, used in parades and other celebrations. Then a stop at Grecia to visit an all metal church. Incidentally, all these stops were as much “rest” stops, as they were coffee and lunch stops.
Finally, back in San Jose where we had a bus tour of part of the city, stopping at the National Theater building for a short tour.
We traveled by a comfortable tour bus from one location to another and had a chance to see the countryside of Costa Rica, the varied scenery along the way, and in some ways, how the people lived. The country seems fairly prosperous. Cattle farming is a prominent agricultural industry, beef cattle as well as dairy cattle the latter primarily in the mountains. There were also fields of sugar cane, pineapple, citrus and of course, coffee. Costa Rica is an interesting country, in many ways, and is well worth visiting.
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